Dear Virgie: Why Are Fat Women Expected to do so Much Emotional Labor?
I have noticed at my job that a lot of people come to me when they need support. I didn’t really notice it until the other day when I was talking to a co-worker about it. She is probably medium, maybe a size 10 or 12. I am fat. She and I hold roughly the same position in the company. I am not anyone’s supervisor. She was surprised to hear about our colleagues’ behavior. She said no one had ever approached her to talk about the things people talked to me about. When I got home later that night I realized that I was actually hurt and pissed off. So I wanted to write you and ask what you think about this behavior.
Yeah, it sounds like you might be experiencing some classic microgressive fatphobia. Microaggressions — in case you don’t know — are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
In this case, your co-workers likely do not see their behavior as negative or harmful. But make no mistake: the fact that they are disproportionately relying upon you fits well into the category of slighting behavior.
A slight can take the form of people expecting emotional labor from you because you are positioned in society as someone who is not a threat because they have been taught that you are inherently inferior to them.
A slight can take the form of people telling you sensitive or vulnerable information because they understand your marginal position in society (which translates to the workplace) and know that if you were to share their sensitive or vulnerable information they could easily discredit you because of your position.
A slight can take the form of people taking advantage of your professional or personal time because they see your time as less valuable or presume that you will be willing to make up the time later. Or, worse yet, they don’t imagine that you are competitive or able to create upward professional mobility for yourself.
A slight can be someone taking advantage of your time or resources because they are banking on your inability to set boundaries. We know from research and also from personal experience that fat women are taught not to value our bodies and our resources and so we find boundary-setting more challenging. This has been shown to create decreased condom usage and less sexual self-advocacy among fat women.
A slight can take the form of presumption that you are always interested in helping because that is your role in society so why shouldn’t it be your role in their relationship with you?
All of these behaviors slowly erode your mental health and ultimately your physical self. You have the right to recognize this behavior as undesirable and act accordingly.
Work relationships are complicated! Duh. And dealing with coworker behavior can often involve diplomacy. I don’t know your workplace as well as you do, so please re-shape my recommendations in a way that works for you.
I recommend ceasing all this extra emotional labor you’re doing with your coworkers immediately. The truth is, you are already doing a bunch of emotional labor at work as it is: like, being in a shared work environment requires a bunch of emotional labor, not to mention the stress of work and work relationships — without even mentioning any of the extra stuff you are doing. It will take co-workers a minute to get that their free emotional labor provider is no longer available to them, but they will. It might make them a little salty, but that’s on them. They are not entitled to your extra therapy time.
Take the extra time you have gained and put it into a project you care about, or a deadline you’ve been avoiding that will help YOUR professional or personal life. Stop giving away your labor and your power and your energy to people who are essentially fatphobic vampires. It’s not your job to take care of them or teach them to be better people. It’s your job to take care of you.
Hope this helps!
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.
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